Former Church of the Brethren leader takes WCC post

Jul 18, 2016 by and

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The former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren in the United States is taking on a new global role.

Stanley Noffsinger

Noffsinger

Stanley Noffsinger became director of the World Council of Churches July 1. The ecumenical body counts approximately 550 million members of 345 member churches.

As director, he will assist WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit as a sort of chief of operations.

“This role will serve in his absence to provide coordination and leadership in the Geneva offices, to make sure operations continue, to be basically the assistant of the general secretary just to make sure things are operating,” Noffsinger said, working from his home in South Elgin, Ill., as he waited for Swiss work papers to be processed.

The Church of the Brethren and Quakers — along with Dutch and German Mennonites — have been members of the WCC for many years. Leaders of more than 100 church bodies voted before the outbreak of World War II to form the fellowship, in similar fashion to the League of Nations.

“I’m just honored to serve this role as a member of a historic peace church,” Noffsinger said. “I think it speaks a lot to our tenacity, our desire to find another way of human expression in times of conflict and turmoil.”

Those peace churches made a big impact on WCC around the turn of the century. The Decade to Overcome Violence, which ran from 2001 to 2010, was a Mennonite-led global WCC initiative that sought to move peacebuilding from the periphery of Christian life to the center.

The call for just peace — rather than just war — was a relatively new concept for WCC, but the first decade transformed into a broader concentration on justice and peace that is a primary focus for the organization’s council through 2021.

“The historic peace traditions have a unique opportunity in history where there is a willingness and a receptivity to another voice of the Christian tradition,” Noffsinger said. “. . . When I took the Church of the Brethren general secretary job in 2003, my predecessor, Judy Mills Reimer, said to me, ‘You are going to be amazed at how often the global church will ask what the Church of the Brethren is thinking,’ and I just laughed at her. . . . Well, she wasn’t wrong.”

Noffsinger concluded his service with the Church of the Brethren on Feb. 12. Dale Minnich of Moundridge, Kan., is serving as interim general secretary until a new general secretary is in place.

Brethren delegates delay action on same-sex weddings question
Mennonite World Review staff

The Church of the Brethren deferred to next year action on how to respond to same-sex weddings during its annual assembly June 29-July 3 in Greensboro, N.C.

The West Marva District introduced a query: “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in same-sex weddings?”

The query noted that five years ago the Church of the Breth­ren reaffirmed its 1983 position that states a homosexual alternative to a Christian understanding of human sexuality “is not acceptable.”

But the query said there is “uncertainty” today regarding roles of ministers and congregations in regard to same-sex weddings, asking for clarity and guidance.

After several days of deliberation, delegates almost unanimously approved a motion to refer the query’s concerns to the denomination’s Leadership Team, “to bring clarity and guidance concerning the authority of annual conference and districts regarding the accountability of ministers, congregations and districts, bringing recommendations to the 2017 annual conference.”

Failed proposal

The denominational news team reported that deliberation on the query began at a pre-conference meeting of a standing committee of district delegates.

The committee narrowly voted for a response that included controversial recommendations, including that “districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience” if a pastor were to officiate or provide leadership at a same-sex wedding.

The recommendation failed to receive a two-thirds majority from conference delegates and was not adopted.

The Leadership Team — composed of the moderator, moderator-elect, secretary and general secretary — will review the matter in consultation with the Council of District Executives.

‘Roots of our tension’

A theme of tension ran through several queries, chiefly addressed in one titled “Living Together as Christ Calls.” La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren petitioned “to appoint a committee to address the roots of our tension and develop strategies that will aid us in treating one another in a truly Christ-like manner.”

The query, which was adopted and referred to the Mission and Ministry Board, identified divisions regarding same-sex marriage, a lack of intercultural inclusion, women in leadership, inerrancy of Scripture, climate change, military drones and the denomination’s name.

“We continue to adopt statements at the denominational level calling us to treat each other with Christian respect amidst our differences, [while] in practice we continue to act in ways that are not respectful, peace-minded or loving,” said the query.


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